green_grrl (green_grrl) wrote in fandom_grammar,
green_grrl
green_grrl
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Answer: Writing dialogue with narrative

Our question today is how to correctly write dialogue with action/narrative. Here's an example of why this is necessary (with the detectives from Hawaii Five-0):

"Are there any malasadas left? I'm starving." Steve smiled.

"No, but we need to talk to Kamekona. We'll get you some shrimp." Danny grabbed his jacket as they both headed towards the door.

"Shrimp for breakfast?"

Kono and Chin just shook their heads as the sound of bickering faded down the hallway.
Okay, who said what, here? You guessed that Steve came in hungry and Danny foisted him off on a food truck "breakfast"?

Uh oh. It was supposed to be the other way around.

Grammar rules exist to provide clarity. In this case, the rule is that—just like each speaker gets his or her own paragraph in dialogue—action or narrative stays with the paragraph of the speaker it's associated with. Readers are accustomed to this rule, so when they see a character performing an action in the same paragraph as dialogue, they assume that's who is speaking.

See the difference that this makes:

"Are there any malasadas left? I'm starving."

Steve smiled. "No, but we need to talk to Kamekona. We'll get you some shrimp."

Danny grabbed his jacket as they both headed towards the door. "Shrimp for breakfast?"

Kono and Chin just shook their heads as the sound of bickering faded down the hallway.
Isn't that more clear?

You could add dialogue tags, but mixing the speaker's dialogue with someone else's action still looks choppy.

"No," Steve said, "but we need to talk to Kamekona. We'll get you some shrimp." Danny grabbed his jacket as they both headed towards the door.

"Shrimp for breakfast?"
The end goal in writing dialogue is to paint a clear picture of who is saying (and doing) what without the reader having to go back and reread to figure it out, and all without sounding repetitive or clunky. One of the tools for doing this is ensuring that each speaker's dialogue and action stays together in his or her own paragraph.

Taking this a step further, writing teacher Michael Stackpole has written an excellent case for showing not telling by using narrative to replace traditional dialogue tags and the adverbs that get added to them. Hat tip to Fan Grammarian chiroho, who recommends Stackpole's High Intensity Writing Workout series.

Check out some more extensive tips on clarity and style when writing dialogue in these previous posts:
Dialogue 101: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by lady_ganesh
Attribution verbs in dialogue by traycer_

Tags: !answer, author:green_grrl, dialogue
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